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California Universal Meals

Beginning in School Year (SY) 2022–23, California will become the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children.

California’s Universal Meals Program (Universal Meals) is designed to build on the foundations of the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). There are three key pillars that have been established to ensure that the program is a success:

  • Pillar One: California’s State Meal Mandate is expanded to include both a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch for, not just needy children, but all children each school day.
  • Pillar Two: High-poverty schools will be required to participate in a federal provision.
  • Pillar Three: The California State Legislature allocates funds to provide additional state meal reimbursement to cover the cost of the Universal Meals Program

On July 9, 2021, Assembly Bill (AB) 130 (McGuire) Education finance: education omnibus budget trailer bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom. Beginning in SY 2022–23, AB 130 establishes a California Universal Meals Program with changes to the state meal mandate and new requirements for high poverty schools to apply for a federal provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2.

Additionally, $150 million in one-time funding was made available during the 2021–22 SY to support kitchen infrastructure upgrades and nutrition related staff training for districts as they prepare for the implementation of Universal Meals. For more information, visit the Kitchen Infrastructure and Training Funds web page.

AB 130 can be found on the California Legislative Information web page. External link opens in new window or tab.

The California Department of Education (CDE) is committed to working with sponsors on the successful implementation of Universal Meals in SY 2022–23. We will continue to release updates, provide resources including frequently asked questions, offer training and listening sessions, solicit sponsors feedback, highlight best practices for collecting the federally required income information, and issue formal policy guidance including management bulletins.

Update of State Meal Mandate

Commencing in SY 2022–23, Education Code (EC) 49501.5 requires public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades TK–12 to provide two meals free of charge (breakfast and lunch) during each school day to students requesting a meal, regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.

Federal Provision Participation Requirement

On or before June 30, 2022, EC 49564.3 requires local educational agencies (LEAs) with high-poverty schools to adopt a federal universal meal service provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2. A school is considered high poverty if their identified student percentage (ISP) is over 40 percent, meaning 40 percent of enrolled students are determined eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through direct certification, or identification as homeless, migrant, foster, or runaway.

Supplemental State Meal Reimbursement

The CDE will reimburse LEAs for all non-reimbursed expenses accrued in providing federally reimbursable meals to students, as long as the LEA participates in the federal School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs and serves U.S Department of Agriculture reimbursable meals. LEAs will still be required to abide by federal regulations and guidelines as Universal Meals is meant to supplement, not replace, the federal school nutrition programs.

Under EC 49501.5, the meal reimbursement amount will not exceed the difference between the federal and state free reimbursement rates. Additional state reimbursements will be provided for reduced-price and paid meals to ensure LEAs receive the same reimbursement for those meal categories as they would for meals served at the free reimbursement rate.

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